Monday, March 1, 2021

First Christmas Away From Home In This Time of Pandemic

by Latai Muller

"From home to home and heart to heart, from one place to another, the warmth and joy of Christmas bring us closer to each other."


 Christmas is a time of peace and happiness within the family. But during this time, the pandemic has given Christmas celebrations some disruptive twists resulting in a unique but significant experiences not just for me but for all of us. The added twist for me was that it was my first Christmas on mission, far from my home in Tonga.  The restrictions on gatherings, nighttime curfew, the limited church attendance, the wearing of faces masks and face shields, and social distancing have all added to the 'strangeness' of Christmas.

The thought of living with restrictions over Christmas on account of the pandemic could easily cause many to feel anxious, angry, or helpless, and I too, could resonate with those feelings. Christmas under these restrictive circumstances invokes feelings of sadness within me because not only am I missing my family, but the thought of not being able to celebrate it the conventional way has added insult to injury.

However, I needed to transcend above the things that are beyond my control.  This brought me to a space to reflect deeply on the reason why I am here on mission.  I found the words of Pope Francis about Christmas to be very comforting, 'God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving.  If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.'  These words made me realize that there are still many ways for me to search and encounter God to make my Christmas more meaningful.

Visiting a family on Christmas Day

The Christmas celebrations I have experienced in Cagayan de Oro have given me an insight into the spirituality of Filipinos which is expressed in so many ways. I have experienced some of them like the dawn mass or simbang gabi, a novena mass for 9 consecutive nights before Christmas, which I fully attended; I have witnessed families attending mass together;  the Noche Buena where most families would stay awake during Christmas eve; the Filipinos love for singing karaoke; the lavish food preparations; the tangible gift giving; all of these took place while being conscious of the pandemic restrictions.  I believe these are just few of the many customs and practices among Filipinos, but they leave me with the impressions that they can maintain a positive spirit even in the midst of a pandemic.

With youth leaders and Fr. Enrique
I once asked a taxi driver, "kuya (older brother), how do you feel about Christmas this year?" I was surprised with his answer. He said, "I am happy and still thankful because my family is complete.  Problems, be it be pandemic or typhoons,  do not stop us from celebrating Christmas.  We Filipinos manage to recover." His answer really touched me and awakened in me a realization that God's work manifests in different ways, be it a pandemic or my first Christmas away from home, and I can still manage to recover by spending time with people I have met along the way in mission.

Nevertheless, I have accepted that Christmas in a new place would never be the same as the one we celebrate in Tonga.  Having acknowledged my initial feelings of sadness and having been guided to transcend above that sadness had made my Christmas on mission enjoyable and meaningful, even if it was during a pandemic. Being able to experience the newness of everything; new companions, new places, new experiences, new traditions, has been the most precious gift I have ever received for Christmas.  I had a blessed Christmas after all.

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